EQUUS Consultants: Thin Horse, Tendon Treatment

Does a thin horse need more grain? Should a swollen tendon sheath be treated? Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS magazine's medical editor, answers readers' questions.
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Does a thin horse need more grain? Should a swollen tendon sheath be treated? Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS magazine's medical editor, answers readers' questions.

Tendon Sheath Repeat
Question
: My daughter's horse has injured his tendon sheath during turnout twice in the last year. The veterinarian did an ultrasound each time and determined that there was no damage to the tendon--only that the sheath was swollen. The sheath is on the left hind leg at the front of the cannon bone. He has not been lame, although each time we have put him on stall rest and started hand walking him to bring him back. He also gets two Bute a day during the recovery and has been injected with cortisone during the second or third week following the injury to bring down the swelling. Is there anything else we can be doing to treat this or prevent it from happening?

Answer: The extensor tendons on the front of the hind and forelegs have a subtle role in the posture of the moving leg as it approaches the "landing" phase of each step. These tendons, however, play essentially no part in support. For this reason, injuries such as the one your daughter's horse has affect only the appearance of the leg, which may affect show use, but not soundness.

A lubricating sheath surrounds a tendon wherever it may bend or rub on constraining ligaments at or near a joint. Irritation causes fluid production, overfilling the sheath and stretching it. Once inflamed, a tendon sheath is more likely to refill after events such as slipping, hanging a leg in a vine or fence or other uncoordinated use of that leg. Treatment is rarely absolutely curative, but persistent filling can be controlled, more or less, by bandaging over the area and/or steroid injections into the sheath. Since your daughter's horse seems unaffected by these episodes I would urge you to do nothing unless he is compromised in his utility by filling in the sheath.
--Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS Medical Editor

Was He Underfed?
Question
: I had a caretaker look after my horse when I went away for a few weeks. He was in good health when I left. When I returned, his ribs were showing and his hind end was sunken in. He also had diarrhea and seemed very tired and clumsy. My first thought was that he wasn't fed enough while I was away, but I was told he was like this because of stress, because another horse at the barn had recently died. A veterinarian did bloodwork and found nothing wrong, but did recommend upping his grain. After three or four days, his diarrhea was gone. Was my first instinct correct--was he simply not getting enough food?

Answer: Free-choice hay of bright, leafy, mold-free quality should be provided to all horses kept for casual riding. When fine hay is always available, little grain or concentrates will be required. Most thin horses lack sufficient hay, not grain. Diarrhea is a common result of inadequate feeding; the intestine secretes digestive juices which have no forage to digest and flow out in the stool.

I think your first instinct was correct: It sounds as if your horse may be dependent on some grain to maintain his weight and when quality hay was not offered, he dropped weight until his grain ration was upped to compensate. He needs to be offered more and better quality hay and then have his grain ration reduced to a level that maintains his weight. You were right to be concerned and if other horses depend on this caretaker, you should be concerned about them, as well.
--Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS Medical Editor

Have a question about your horse's health, care or traiing? Our experts offer solutions for a range of equine-management problems. Write to EQUUS Consultants, 656 Quince Orchard Rd. #600, Gaithersburg, MD 20878; email EQletters@equinetwork.comm.